January, February and March are common months for trainers to get calls from clients about puppy problems. Why in these months? Because, people give puppies as gifts to their loved ones and the months following the holiday season are when people get frustrated with their little balls of endless energy. Currently, I have a puppy and it is truly impossible to wear her out. I can’t imagine someone trying to raise a puppy without having the proper tools and knowledge to have success. I’d love to share a few tips for people to read before they even consider a puppy. Hopefully this will encourage further reading and research.
• Make sure you have lots of time. The minute you bring your puppy home, you need to start training her. Fortunately, new research has paved the way for force free methods of training puppies. The old method of puppy training was to wait until they were 6 months of age to start training by means of using physical punishment. So, the minute you bring your little one home, start training and socializing her everyday. Be diligent and keep this up for at least a year. In fact, dogs find training rewarding and fun throughout their entire lives.
• Owning a dog is a long term, financial and emotional commitment. Puppies, compared to adopting an older dog, are very expensive. They have to go to the vet often and you may have to invest in equipment such as crates, gates and possibly even fence in your back yard. Because of this commitment, a puppy should never be given as a surprise gift. You are taking in a living thing that relies on you which takes planning and a committed effort for 10 to 14 years.
• If you buy a purebred puppy, make sure you buy from a reputable and registered breeder. Purebred dogs generally are very expensive ($500 to $1000 or more). If they aren’t, you could be dealing with a back yard breeder with little experience. Another possibility is your dog is from a puppy-mill. Puppy-mill dogs can be mal-adjusted because they are not exercised or socialized properly. These dogs are hard to rehabilitate. Also, be wary of buying a dog off of an online listing site such as Craig’s list or from a pet store. The reputable pet stores just host shelters to bring rescued dogs to be sold at nominal prices. They don’t sell puppy-mill dogs.
• Evaluate your lifestyle to make sure the breed you are interested in falls in line with what works for you. For instance, don’t buy a Border Collie if you aren’t an active person with a huge commitment to giving this breed tons of exercise and mental stimulation. Consequently, if you are really active, don’t buy a sedentary breed such as a Bassett Hound. In other words, don’t buy just on looks. Write down what you might do with a dog and find a breed that fits your lifestyle. If you want a lap dog, the Border collie isn’t it.
• Make sure the puppy stayed with its mother for 2 months before taking it home. This is important. Puppies taken from mom before 2 months can also be mal-adjusted and be difficult to rehabilitate. Mom and brothers and sisters teach bite inhibition so the puppy learns cues as to when she bites too hard. That skill translates into adulthood when you don’t want your 70 pound Lab play biting you with full force. Also, puppies that stay with their mother for 2 months are also less likely to be fearful or timid in their adult lives.
• If you want to get a rescued puppy, be choosy. Don’t go into a shelter and make a quick decision. There are so many dogs that need to be rescued and doing so is a noble act. I am a dog rescuer and I applaud it. But, you still want to find a compatible dog. For as much as this process will involve your heart, you have to have your wits about you. You still must consider your lifestyle and what kind of puppy you are adopting. Consider time, commitment, and a proper breed mixture that fits your life. You don’t always know if the puppy was taken from its mother before 2 months, but you should always do your best to find out as much about the puppy’s history as possible. I volunteer at a local rescue and see certain dogs returned, sometimes multiple times. This frequently occurs because people are adopting solely with their hearts and then get overwhelmed when reality sets in. Many times I feel that it is worse for the puppy to come back to the shelter multiple times as opposed to the puppy staying in the shelter longer to make sure they find the right home.
How you bring up a puppy will greatly determine what kind of adult dog you end up having. It’s best to stay grounded, be a little less idealized in your selection, and be diligent with training.